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The Fifteenth Amendment and Equal Protection of US Citizens

By Edited Jun 19, 2015 0 0

Fifteenth Ammendment

As the Civil War came to an end, it was crucial to take the big achievements and transition them into the law of the land before any ground was lost as reconstruction brought back the nation to one country instead of two warring parties.  The turmoil of society that the abolition of slavery symbolized and the monumental surge forward for black history was so important that it was crucial to make it permanent with amendments to the constitution so the gains built during that bloody battle wouldn't be lost again.

The work that was required to be done to change a nation by one of slavery to one of equality began with three important amendments to the constitution.  The thirteenth amendment got rid of slavery forever and the fourteenth amendment turned the negative effects of the Dred Scott decision giving equal protection under the law for all citizens of this country irrespective of race, color or creed.

But the fifteenth amendment extended further than just instituting the basic human rights of the African American community.  It made a change so profound to how America works that its ramifications were sweeping and extensive down to this day.  The text of the amendment is head on and elegant.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

This was an enormous leap forward for the black community when this amendment was sanctioned on February 3, 1870 because it ultimately meant that the African American population in this country can stand up and be counted and start making a mark on politics and along with it how decisions are created in this country.  It was a proud instant when the very first black man to cast a vote came along the very next day as Thomas Mundy Peterson voted in a school board election in the town of Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

But like so many different great advances in black history, gaining the right to vote did not automatically make it so easy to vote.  There was strong resistance to actually allowing blacks to go to the polling booth in several communities across the country.  The Klu Klux Klan took in intimidation tactics to try to keep African Americans from the polls.  In Louisiana, the mob attempts to halt the institutions of a lawfully elected and integrated local governments had to be taken apart by federal troops sent in by Ulysses S. Grant. 

In all probability, the gravest threat to the actual workability of the fifteenth amendment was the creation of the poll tax and other registration tricks that were employed such as literacy tests and voter qualification tests distinctly designed to deny the right to vote to African Americans.  This exercise became such a problem that it prompted the passage of the twenty fourth amendment which illegalized poll taxes which were only designed to seize the rights of African Americans to vote.

But these desperate undertakings could not stop the march of justice and democracy to ascertain that voting rights were possible to all Americans.  Before long, blacks were taking up positions of influence and decision making in state legislatures and also at the federal level.  It’s been a long scramble but even in the last few decades we have seen positions of high honor and influence held by certified African Americans such as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and of course, Barrack Obama winning the democratic nomination, and eventually occupy the highest position in this land.

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